On top of assessments and tailored teaching, children with dyslexia and dyspraxia can benefit massively from the right nutrition. The most important factor to consider is essential fat deficiencies and the significant role of essential fatty acids play in improving outcomes for the dyslexic child.
Is there proof?
Children with dyslexia, dyspraxia and learning difficulties are very often deficient in these essential fats and/or the nutrients needed to properly utilise them, and the benefits of increasing the intake of these fats have been clearly documented in many studies.
A study of 97 dyslexic children by Dr Alexandra Richardson and colleagues at Hammersmith Hospital in London revealed that essential fat deficiency clearly contributes to the severity of dyslexic problems. Those children with the worst essential fat deficiencies showed significantly poorer reading and lower general ability than the non-deficient children.
Recently the results of The Oxford-Durham Study were published showing that 3 months’ supplemental fish oil capsules can help the reading, spelling, attention and concentration of children with dyspraxia to improve very significantly (Pediatrics 2005, 115(5): 1360-66).
To test the value of supplementing essential fats in dyspraxia, Dr Jacqueline Stordy of the University of Surrey in the UK gave essential fat supplements containing DHA, EPA, AA and DGLA to 15 children whose performance on standardised measures of motor and coordination skills placed them in the bottom 1 per cent of the population. After 12 weeks of supplementation, they all showed significant improvements in manual dexterity, ball skills, balance and parental ratings of their dyspraxic symptoms.
How can I tell?
If your child has some of the outward symptoms of essential fat deficiency – rough dry patches on the skin, cracked lips, dull or dry hair, soft or brittle nails, and excessive thirst – it is fair to say that this could be an underlying factor in learning difficulties they might be experiencing, such as concentration or visual problems, mood swings, disturbed sleep patterns and in some cases behavioural problems. This is because dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning difficulties and ADHD all involve poor nerve cell communications in the brain, and essential fats are crucial in keeping neurons talking to each other.
What about adults?
Such improvements don’t only apply to children however. People often worry that once a person becomes an adult their brain structure is fixed. But the brain is continuously adapting and HUFAs move in and out of nerve membranes quite fast.
Any losses must therefore be provided by the diet, because the body cannot manufacture them by itself, so there is much anecdotal evidence that EPA supplements can also help adults.
One charity, Natural Justice, which works with prison inmates, published a study showing that by adding fish oils, minerals and vitamins to the diets of young offenders their rates of offending and violence reduced by an amazing one third (British Journal of Psychiatry (2002) 181, 22-8).
Annie Shrier from the Dyslexia Research Trust has commented about the essential oils research: “we’re really bursting to know if they can benefit adults as well. If so, this would represent a real breakthrough for all the adult dyslexics who have struggled through life, probably under-performing. They would no longer feel as though they had missed the boat as far as remedial measures are concerned”.
Sarah Couchman ND Registered Naturopath (London College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences LCNM) has served Oxford’s community for over 15 years as a Complementary Health Practitioner. She specialises in dietary and structural complaints and originally trained in Osteopathic Medicine at Oxford Brookes University. Sarah continued her training in Classical Osteopathic Technique & Bio-Mechanic Manipulation with one of the original forefathers of Osteopathic Medicine in the UK. Having completed further study in Naturopathic Medicine, Sarah now sees clients with both joint and soft tissue problems as well as dietary issues.